“Good evening, everyone!” Cheryl said, greeting the dozen folding chairs arranged in a circle, half of which were actually in use, with her regular cheerleader-esque pep. The blonde woman in three-inch heals and a light pink suit was precariously holding a plate of oatmeal cookies in her right hand and an intimidatingly large stack of still-warm-from-the-church-printer handouts in her left. She looked like a Mary Kay representative turned tenured professor.
“It looks like we have a new member!”
“Hey,” a girl sporting a hoodie and jeans combo said with a nod of acknowledgement in Cheryl’s direction. The rest of the backsliders stared at the stitching on their shoes. “I’m Laura,” said the hoodie girl. “My dad made me come.”
“Wonderful!” Cheryl exclaimed as she sat the amoeba-shaped cookies down on the table by a pitcher of room-temperature orange juice. No one found themselves in the church basement of Second Church of Faith on a Wednesday night looking at their shoes because of the food. No one came for the food, not even Adam, a tall, skinny man whose sweaters all looked like they’d likely made regular guest appearances on The Cosby Show. Although, he wasn’t quite sure why he was here, to be honest. Or why he’d come the week before. Or the week before that. Or the week before that.
Adam’s weekly bible study had held an intervention one Monday — demanding, in unison, that he take immediate, drastic action in dealing with his blackslidden ways. Cheryl said the first step was admitting you had a problem but, despite sitting in his usual chair every Wednesday evening for the past few weeks, he hadn’t gotten there yet. His entire bible study group thought he had a problem, so he just kept coming. He must have a problem. But he just couldn’t see his problem yet, not for himself.
So he continued coming, hoping one of these weeks it’d finally click why it was so bad that he’d said during Monday night bible study that he didn’t bother with daily devotions — reading through three chapters in his bible a day, with the goal being to work his way through the entire book every year, and closing it up with a prayer that was exactly fifteen-minutes long. It was the Second Church of Faith way; it’s what everyone did or at least said they were attempting to do. Well, everyone except Adam, he wasn’t even trying.
“Adam,” Cheryl asked with an abnormally big smile, “why don’t you get us started?”
“Hello, my name is Adam,” said Adam. “And I’m a backslider — or at least that’s what the folks in my bible study seem to think. I dunno. Maybe I’m just a different type of Christian, ya know? ‘Daily devotions’ just feel too forced, too rigid for my liking.”
“Lovely, Adam,” Cheryl’s smile began to resemble a bad botox job as it became tighter, more forced. “Thank you for being so honest and open. Just keep coming, and you’ll get there.”
“But I’m not convinced skipping ‘daily devotions’ is such a bad thing,” said Adam, he was the Backsliders Anonymous member Cheryl found the most challenging to deal with. “It’s not like I never read my bible or pray — I pray when I take my dog, Otis, walking. It feels more organic. Why doesn’t that count?”
“Why don’t we try to keep on task this week, Adam. We want everyone to have a chance to talk. Now, how long has it been since you last backslid?”
“How long has it been since I last missed my last ‘daily devotion?’ Uh, I dunno. A couple of days.”
“Well, that’s a start, Adam. Although, you really need to start using the daily check sheet I printed out for you last week, otherwise you won’t know how you’re really doing. Just check the box next to the date every time you’re victorious. It’ll help keep you accountable and eventually will inspire you to keep going when you see how many check marks you’ve made. And inspiration and recovery is what we’re about here at Backsliders Anonymous!”
“But I don’t like checklists. They make me feel guilt-tripped into ‘spending time with God.’ Maybe I’m not the daily devotional sort of Christian?”
“Adam, just because you’ve slipped up doesn’t mean you’re not ‘the daily devotional sort’ — God wants us all to be that sort. Just remember, there’s always hope.”
“I guess so. But I don’t always like reading the bible. It’s kinda dry. And some of the stuff in the Old Testament is creepy — like, the woman who’s cut into little bite-sized pieces and her pieces are sent off like some gross Old Testament version of the three-days-to-pay-or-we-evict notices my apartment’s always taping on people’s doors. What’s up with that? It’s like reading something right out of a slasher film!”
“Adam!” The pitch of Cheryl’s voice rose as if he’d just sworn in the middle of Pastor’s 20 minute Sunday prayer. “This is not the place for that kind of question — we’ve talked about that before, remember? Backsliders Anonymous is a safe place to find support as you work towards spiritual recovery. I think we need to remember why we’re here. Everyone, repeat with me:”
“I will read my bible and pray, every single day,” five of the six backsliders dutifully repeated in unison, even Adam. Although, his bushy eyebrows now seemed to be frustrated and his brown eyes seemed to feel trapped, as if they were looking for the fire escape.
Laura, the newest addition to the church flunkies, hadn’t joined in on the chant. She sat there, leaning back in her uncomfortable metal chair with her skinny high schooler arms crossed in a mix of apathy and defiance.
“What if I don’t want to talk to God?” Laura asked after the chant had ended.
The circle of metal chairs was silent.
“Laura, that’s great you’re being so honest and open already!” Cheryl encouraged with her unique style of intensity that made Laura wonder if she was high or had just ingested a few too many shots of espresso that morning. “It’s good to be open, however, the goal of this meeting — as your father has likely already instructed you — is to help you to recover spiritually from your backsliddeness. And the first step of this journey is admitting you have a problem.”
“But I don’t have a problem,” Laura said with a shrug.
“My dear, your father has signed you up for our weekly meetings because you’ve become backslidden in your faith. That means that you have a problem. A serious problem! But this is a safe place because everyone here has a spiritual problem,” Cheryl paused, “Well, almost everyone.” She smiled to herself.
“What if I don’t want to ‘recover spiritually?’ What if I think God’s just a jackass who lets bad things happen to good people — people like my mom?”
Cheryl squished her face together as if she’d just eaten something sour. But she knew how to handle such outright defiance, and with that she dropped an inch-thick pack of paper in Laura’s lap. “There,” she said. “That’s your homework for this week. No more off-topic questions until you’ve read that. Now,” turning to the other five church-basement prisoners, “does anyone else have any questions?”
After a pause, Cheryl felt like she’d successfully gotten the group back on track. “Now that we’re done with silly questions for the evening, let’s move on to the important business. Joe, why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us how long it’s been since you’ve last backslidden.”
And with that, Adam and Laura joined the rest of the backsliders in analyzing the workmanship of their sneakers.